Divide and Conquer is a simple game for two players. Much like Gops, the exact composition of each player’s hand is known to both players, and all of the strategy comes from simply playing the right cards at the right time! As in Mate, the only element of luck is the cards the player is initially dealt, and this is canceled out by the players switching hands after playing through them. As a result, the game is one of the rare examples of a card game that is entirely based around strategic play.
Divide and Conquer was invented by Claude Soucie, a Canadian-born game designer with several published board games under his belt. Soucie was a longtime friend of renowned game inventor and author Sid Sackson; the latter published Divide and Conquer in his 1981 compendium Card Games Around the World.
Object of Divide and Conquer
The object of Divide and Conquer is win the majority of the game’s ten matches. A player does not necessarily know what card their opponent will play next, so this more or less involves outwitting the other player.
Divide and Conquer uses a very small number of cards. Take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and extract one queen, and one each of all of the cards 2–10. (Suit doesn’t matter.) These ten cards are all you need to play the game.
Shuffle and deal five cards to each player, exhausting the pack.
Before beginning play, each player should carefully examine their hand. It is important to realize that the five cards they don’t have are the ones their opponent does have. Furthermore, all of the plays are left face-up on the table. That means that at any given point in time, each player knows the exact cards their opponent holds.
Each player places one card from their hand face down on the table. When both have done so, the cards are both revealed, and compared to see which is the winner. In most cases, the higher card wins (cards rank in their usual order). However, if the pip value of the lower card divides evenly into the higher card, the low card wins. The queen has a value of twelve for the purposes of division. Also, if the low card has a pip value of exactly one below the high card, the low card wins.
- 9-5. The 9 wins because it is higher.
- Q-6. The 6 wins because 12 ÷ 6 = 2.
- 10-9. The 9 wins because it is one lower than the 10.
- 9-3. The 3 wins because 9 ÷ 3 = 3.
After the winner of the match is determined, both cards are placed in the middle of the table. The cards should be placed so that the two cards are clearly next to each other, with each card on the same side of the table as the person who played it. The losing card should be turned at right angles to signify its loss. The next match is then played the same way.
After the fifth match, both players will be out of cards. The cards are assembled back into their original hands, and the two hands are then swapped. The players then play five more matches, using the cards their opponent was originally dealt.
Whichever player wins a majority of the matches wins the game. If the players evenly split the matches, the game is a tie.
For a longer game, use a fourteen-card deck composed of 2–10 of one of the black suits and 2-4-5-6-8 in one of the red suits. The values of the red cards are equal to ten plus the pip value, so the red 2 has a value of twelve, the red 4 is fourteen, etc. Deal seven cards to each player. The best of fourteen matches wins.
Mate is an obscure two-player game that was originally created in Germany. Like Gops, it is a game with a heavy emphasis on strategy. Unlike Gops, however, which eliminates luck by removing all but a small element of randomness from the game play, Mate mitigates the naturally-occurring randomness from the deal of the hands by requiring players to play each deal twice, swapping hands with their opponent after the first playthrough.
Mate appears to have first been published in a German-language pamphlet called “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (in English, “Two New War Games!”) published in Hanover in 1915 by one G. Capellen, apparently the inventor of the game. It remained relatively unknown until Sid Sackson, an avid game collector and author best known for creating the board game Acquire, purchased a copy of “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!”, despite knowing little German at the time. Sackson was quite taken by the game, and later spread it to a wider audience by including it in his 1969 book A Gamut of Games. Sackson theorized that “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (and therefore, Mate) never took off because of the concept of war games simply didn’t appeal to the populace of a country engaged in World War I when the booklet was published.
Object of Mate
The object of Mate is to force an opponent to be unable to play a card matching the card led in suit or rank, but allowing as many turns to pass as possible before then.
Mate is played with a stripped pack of only 20 cards. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the jacks, 9s, 8s, and 6s through 2s, leaving a deck composed of A, K, Q, 10, 7 in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to score with, such as pencil and paper.
Shuffle and deal the whole pack to both players, five at a time. Each player will have a hand of ten cards.
Mate more or less follows the standard card ranking, except for 10s, which rank between aces and kings. Aces are high. Therefore, the full rank of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, 7 (low). The suits also rank relative to one another: (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low).
Unlike most two-player games, the dealer gets the first move. They begin by deciding whether not they wish to foreplace (i.e. discard) a card. If so, they place it face-down in front of them. The non-dealer then has the option to foreplace a card. Foreplacing a card increases the score if the player wins the hand (see below).
The dealer then leads the first card. The non-dealer must then respond by playing a card of the same suit, if possible. If they cannot, they must play a card of the same rank as the card led. These two cards constitute one move. The higher-ranked card wins the move; if both cards were of the same rank, the card of the higher suit wins. Whoever played the higher card then leads to the second move.
Game play continues in this fashion, with each player placing their cards to separate face-up piles in front of them, being careful not to mix the cards between the hands. If a player is at any time unable to follow the lead in suit or rank, the leader of that move is said to have given mate to their opponent. The player giving mate scores the value of the card they played to give mate, multiplied by one for each move played (e.g. a mate on the fifth move would score the value of the mating card times five). If a player foreplaced a card, this foreplacement is counted as move one for that player, so the number of moves is effectively increased by one.
The values of the cards for scoring is:
- Ace: eleven.
- Ten: ten.
- King: four.
- Queen: three.
- Seven: seven.
So for example, if a player gave mate with a queen in the fifth move, they would score 3 × 5 = 15 points. If they foreplaced a card, this would be counted as the sixth move, so they would score 3 × 6 = 18 points.
In the case where one player foreplaced and the other did not, the player who foreplaced is considered to play the same card to both the ninth and tenth moves. If this card gives mate to the opponent, it is called an overmate and scores double. An overmate with an ace is the highest possible score for one game: 11 (for the ace) × 11 (for the tenth move, plus one through foreplacement) × 2 (for the overmate) = 242.
If both players manage to play out the entirety of their hands without either player being mated, it is considered a draw. Neither player scores in this situation.
After the game, the two piles of cards are swapped. The same hands are then played again, but with each player playing the hand that previously belonged to their opponent. The original non-dealer leads off. This pair of games played with the same hands is called a round.
After completing the first round, the original non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals fresh hands to each player. These hands are used to play a second round. Two rounds make up one match; the winner of the match is the player with the higher score after its conclusion.